Q&A: PLMA president talks putting on an online trade show

Officials at the Private Label Manufacturers Association are getting excited about the online launch of PLMA Live! Presents Private Label Week, slated for Feb. 1 to 5, as an answer to its annual and extremely popular Private Label Trade Show that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Peggy Davies, president of the New York-based trade association, with about 4,000 members worldwide, talked with Store Brands about the virtual event and how retailers and suppliers can best benefit from it. 

Store Brands: What’s going on in the private label world during the worst economic moment of all time and what is the industry doing to respond? 
Peggy Davies: There’s no question the coronavirus pandemic here in the U.S. and around the world has had tremendous and far-reaching impact throughout the private label industry, as it has for practically every aspect of life in 2020. Everyone experienced at once the changes and disruptions of emergency health and safety measures that had to be taken into account in our workplaces and production, our sourcing, transportation, distribution and basic ways of doing business to keep supply chains moving in spite of these disruptions, and to help retailers replenish the inventories in their stores while responding to radical shifts in consumer demands.

Peggy Davies

Retailing, as you know, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as more essential to everyone’s health and well-being than most people even thought about before, and retail chains were quick to make whatever adjustments were needed. Private label suppliers have pulled out all the stops as retailers explored every avenue to keep products in stock on the shelves and continue serving their customers. In the midst of trying to keep shoppers and employees safe, retailers also wasted no time expanding the options for shopping at home, pickup and delivery. And in many cases suppliers have offered solutions by thinking outside the box and shifting production to meeting the retailers’ needs with different configurations, pack sizes, delivery schedules, and so on.

SB: While we are certain you are extremely disappointed about the cancellation of the PLMA show this month, please take us through the thought process in developing PLMA Live Presents: Private Label Week. 
PD: Much as suppliers are stepping up with innovative solutions, PLMA has had to innovate as well. We knew we had to deliver for the sake of members who have the same need as ever to continue building their business under these most extraordinary circumstances. The same is true for retailers. Their need for reliable sources of every kind of product doesn’t simply disappear when the market environment changes, and the capabilities of PLMA members are not something easily replaceable. Everyone knows the show must go on and it will go on — virtually.

SB: Tell us about Private Label Week. What makes this event unique?  
PD: The commitment to creating a digital experience that could live up to the high standards of PLMA’s in-person events is not something that can be taken lightly. We knew the minute we decided to pivot that it had to be entirely unique compared to other virtual events. The fact is that PLMA has been exploring development of a proprietary digital exhibitor platform for a number of years — one that is created specifically for our industry and tailored expressly to serve the needs of store brand manufacturers, retailers and industry professionals.

Among the most unique features in taking the PLMA experience online is the ability to welcome buyers and suppliers from around the globe. And since the show — from a buyer’s perspective — is all about products, we’re making everything about Private Label Week category-driven, by extending the event over five days of activity and devoting each day to specific departments and products.

Throughout each day of the event, PLMA will also be offering online a full schedule of new and original video programming from our PLMA Live! news desk and the entire PLMA Live! news team, including category-specific trend reports, research, opinions and perspectives from top industry speakers.

Private Label Week is also where we plan to announce and present the retail winners of PLMA’s annual Salute to Excellence Awards for new products and innovation across dozens of food and nonfood categories.

SB: What should retailers expect from PL Week? Why does it matter to retailers? 
PD: In many respects, Private Label Week was designed to bring to retailers what they always needed and gravitated to from PLMA’s in-person events. They can find new suppliers, but also discover the same wide range of products, including the newest products available from established suppliers who represent the kind of selection, depth and quality of private label products that they’ve come to expect from PLMA.

At the start of a new year, it matters a great deal to retailers who have been unable to attend events or hold face-to-face meetings. Retailers are calling every day looking for new suppliers. Many retailers woke up to new prospects in the midst of difficulties, as consumers are open to trying new things and presenting increasing opportunities to expand their private label offering. 

SB: What do you hope is the takeaway from the event for both retailers and suppliers? 
PD: Products! Products! Products! That is the number one reason why retailers look to PLMA and PLMA member manufacturers. Every possible effort is being made to ensure Private Label Week will not disappoint in this regard.

Of course, everybody also recognizes that products don’t make or sell themselves. Making new connections and exchanging digital business cards; finding new suppliers if you’re a retailer; building new customer relationships if you’re a manufacturer; and expanding networks of talent for everyone builds a career on developing, creating and supporting retailers’ private brands — at the end of the day, the industry is all about the people who make it work.  

SB: Tell us the plan for the traditional show next November.
PD: The year 2020 has been a journey that ultimately is going to bring us to light at the end of the tunnel. There’s every indication pointing to a strong rebound for in-person events in the year ahead.

Everything we learned from planning for the canceled November PLMA show, we plan to implement as best practices for when we can be back on-site in Chicago next November. 

We are expecting to be back on track with the continuing growth of the  show and the industry as a whole, bringing all the newest products and trends once again to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. You can be sure we are also going to be bringing the best of the digital experience to the in-person trade show in 2021.